Tag Archives: diy

Moving my 30 Projects to the Burbs?

Of course I have a lot to do at home, but my parents needed help, too. They bought new shrubs for 2 beds that they had to overhaul and were eager to get them in the ground. One, we lost a beloved beech tree. Its memory lives on thanks to Google Street View.

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It was super great for climbing.

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Since these Street View images were taken, we had made some effort to fill in the useless lawn between the tree and the walkway and mask those steps that awkwardly jut above grade. Then my parents were working on pulling up most of the pachysandra. They were left with some odd shape patches that needed to be tamed and some disjointed remnants of the previous attempt to turn this into a shade garden.

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My mom bought 2 more fothergilla to (hopefully) match the one you can see left of the lamp post. I made the pachysandra bed bigger around them by yanking out that weird patch to the left in solid sheets and laying it down like sod. There’s still a bit more pachysandra to come out, and after that this bed will look like half of a pear. They have a few other ideas for the other end of it once they decide what to do with the yews. Back when the tree was alive we had 2 yews die on us, and I thought they were supposed to be invincible!

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Then, the at the opposite end of their property there was some kind of a big evergreen shrub/tree thing. It kept getting bigger and more weirdly shaped over time (this picture is 5 years old, from back when it kind of looked good) and my parents wanted it out except for the privacy they’d lose.

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They picked up 3 new clethra, a deciduous shrub that is supposed to grow to 6 feet high, and we relocated 3 existing lower shrubs just beyond those. The bed now runs along the street as far as ever but will be a few feet narrower along the hose line.

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Then the next door neighbors were working on their property and said, “We have too many anemones and they scrape against our car. Do you want some?”

Um, yes! (That would be the pink flowers that are staked up.)

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And for reference, here’s the back yard. It’s pretty private but is laid out with a straight line clear through it, so this bed we just redid is supposed to block that line. I wish we had before pictures and/or the design plans I drew up for this space when I was in high school. A lot of the plantings have changed around (for the better) after the original plans, but the layout worked well. My mom said that she wanted this small back yard to be a “Charleston courtyard,” so I laid it out this end of it as well as I could on a formal axis, broken into spaces each roughly the size of a typical city garden, or 3 times the size of a South Philly back yard.

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But without those things the blog may not return here, so I’ll also remind you of the urn fountain I built back here after college.

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And where am I with #30ProjectsIn30Days? These 2 beds would be Projects 12 and 13 now. I have 4 more done and possibly a few more along with them later this week. If I help myself to Sunday, maybe I can pull off #30ProjectsIn31Days. Maybe.

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30 Projects in 30 Days?

I’ve never thought it worked for me to participate in blogger things like the One Room Challenge. Starting a room and finishing it in the same year? That’s not how things work in the Crooked House. And even my parents, who raised me with more normal DIY remodeling, leave rooms unfinished until they redo them for the second time 20 years later. But 30 little things in 30 days? Stacy came up with this idea because like me, she’s made major headway on fixing up an old house but left little bits undone everywhere. I’m not excited to do these small projects, so I like the chance to cheer on and commiserate with other people doing the same thing. But on the other hand, September is the return of weather I like, and I’m not sure I want to be bound to give the house all of my time. Especially when some of these jobs can happen when it’s miserable again in January.

But My mom says do it! So here’s my list, leaving some bigger things for later months and breaking every item into the smallest thing I could possibly call a stand-alone job. I’m still not sure if I can manage 30, and I might come up with extra things to sub in for some of these. But this is a good start.

  1. Finish getting the lath attached? Yes, I am rewarding myself for missing my goal by putting it on this list. There’s almost nothing left to do from this.
  2. Stucco, scratch coat
  3. Stucco, brown coat
  4. Stucco, finish coat. 3 coats, 3 jobs is not a cop out because I said so.
  5. Wire brush and paint the stub of a cast iron pipe the gutter connects to.
  6. Weed my flower pots. I haven’t done a lick of gardening all year and now they’re kind of ridiculous.
  7. Finish painting the kitchen cabinets.
  8. Install kitchen cabinet knobs
  9. Have glass fitted in the china cabinet doors.
  10. Organize/clean the basement and retrieve some materials from the lumber hoard.
  11. Fill nail holes in woodwork throughout the house.
  12. (Have my dad) caulk seams in woodwork throughout the house. Because remember, I suck at caulking.
  13. Make small drywall repairs and patches throughout the house.
  14. Touch-up paint walls throughout the house.
  15. Install vintage brass switch and outlet plates throughout the house. (They are smaller than the new ones, thus most of the wall repairs.)
  16. Bring my twin bed back from my parents’ attic and furnish and set up the guest room. Yes, I have a guest room! I’ve arrived!
  17. Finish my closet. This means one more closet bar and baseboards, hopefully made of scrap wood. It also probably means random crap in the guest room closet.
  18. Finish the linen closet. This means paint the shelves and add baseboards.
  19. Paint woodwork in the upstairs hall
  20. Paint paneling under the stairs
  21. Paint and reinstall the basement stairway door
  22. Install a bulletin board on the back of the basement stairway door. Part for function, part to hide damage.
  23. Paint woodwork in the kitchen and the big archway between the kitchen and living room
  24. Paint vestibule door.
  25. Get the hardware back on the vestibule door and find a skeleton key. Because I’ll be locking the house with an old-fashioned skeleton key when I take the front door off to refinish it.
  26. Repaint kitchen walls as needed.
  27. Tape and mud basement stairway walls (there’s not much and they don’t need to be done well)
  28. Paint basement stairwell.
  29. My sister bought me a really nice mailbox for my birthday in March. Let’s get it up.
  30. I promised my sister I’d season her vintage cast iron at the same time that I do mine… a year later, she’s asking where it is. And since she’s visiting home this month, it’s time.

An Irishman in the Suburbs

Remember that project to turn my room at my parents’ house into my dad’s office?

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Yep, they got him to help. Now you might be wondering what they were thinking after all I went through. Are they totally out of their minds? Maybe, but maybe it made sense.

They sold the desk and wanted a counter that runs the length of the room, leaving space for grown-up knees. But the room is 12′-7″ and the longest off-the-shelf wood countertops are 12′. Custom work would cost hundreds of dollars. Ross suggested shifting the closed cabinets in and letting the counter be only 12 feet long. My parents weren’t too keen on this idea. He also suggested rebuilding the shelving to float above the counter instead of sitting on it, and they were keen on that one.

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  1. Building a countertop and bookshelves require either lots of time to do things by trial and error or mad skills.
  2. This job doesn’t require the precision of a work shop (which is where my kitchen cabinet doors went wrong).
  3. And, my dad worked alongside him for the entire day 3 days he spent on the project.

But let’s start at the beginning. First, my dad had to strip one of the two windows to bare wood because an ice dam damaged the paint a few years ago. And he had a harder time getting the wallpaper off than expected.

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At this stage, the room brought back memories of when we first moved here. I was 9 and relieving me of the indignity of a pink bedroom was a high priority, though a flood in the basement knocked it off the very top of the to-do list. (Today pink paint wouldn’t bother me in the least.) And the 20-year-old paint job was surprisingly dingy in what I still thought was a decently nice room. He said a while back that my bedroom (the one in Philadelphia that is) was a cool color and that he’d use the same in his. I still think it’s funny to call a neutral “cool” but maybe that’s just me.

Then an all too familiar sight reappeared. And my “NOT TRASH” sign is still taped on the plastic!

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But the result?

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The important things here: My dad made sketches and imposed organization onto the Irishman. They joined the counter together with a biscuit joiner in the kitchen. My mom wasn’t thrilled about this but it wasn’t messy. They raised the cabinets 3/4″ and will need to install quarter round around the bottom to hide it. And my dad still needs to install the IKEA kitchen drawer he got for under the desk top. The new cabinets are better made than the old ones and spaced to hold reference books and only reference books instead of the mixed library I had when I was 9. Also, is it me or does the design look top heavy?

Bonus: he hung 5 new doors! My parents’ house was built in 1951 with flush doors. Pretty nice ones actually. Then sometime probably in the 80’s someone downgraded most of them to the flimsiest hollow paneled doors I’ve ever seen. Like, if you pressed on them they would squish. My parents have then been replacing them all with new solid pine 6 paneled doors, but the last few were particularly beat. Mainly because my sister and I would try to shove them in each other’s faces and wedge our feet in under them to hold them open and they were starting to come apart. My already had all the replacement doors but they sat in the garage for something like 15 years. So now they’re all up! They just need to be painted. And it might take a bit to get the adhesive residue from 15 year old packaging off.

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Hopefully soon you’ll get to see the room finished.

 

 

Am I a player now?

First there was Tim. He was in the picture for a solid 2 years, and even though I had to put up with a lot of stupid shit I stuck with him. But he left me high and dry when a better option came along. I never gave him his stuff back.

Then there was Ken. The first time he came over was encouraging and I guess that’s why I kept coming back to him after how many times he stood me up. And he never took it upon himself to tell me – I had to sit at home calling him to find out.

So it may have been underhanded of me when I went after Dre, who Ken knows, and got Ken to give me Dre’s number. But, you know, I’m trying to find someone. I took a day off of work partly to meet Dre. We were good to go the night before but then he ghosted on me, just like the others.

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And now there’s John. He stopped answering my calls, too, until I called him from the office. He finally did get back to me and we were supposed to meet. Again, nothing.

I haven’t dumped John yet but I’m already after another guy named John. They don’t have to know about each other. At this point I want to get whatever there is to get from whoever will give it to me. My roommate even knows to leave the door unlocked when John is thinking of coming by.

And if all else fails, there’s one more number I can call and I’ve heard good things. But they’ll charge $75 just for someone to come by before even doing anything. The thought of paying for that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but they’re in the back of my mind in case I ever need it bad enough.

 

But a little good news – I finally found the one! The second John came and got my heat working today!

Yeah, this whole post was about plumbers. What did you think I meant?

But a little bad news. Having given up on professional help, then given up on DIY, then given up on professional help, and so on, my dad and I tried to hook up the thermostats ourselves. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, we fried the boiler control relay, the damper control, the circulating pump, and all 3 zone valves. I was starting to save money again. That was nice while it lasted. So, a little shocked horror there. But at long last, the Crooked House has functioning central heat. And considering that the boiler was exhausting 3000 parts per million carbon monoxide and the chimney was blocked at the top and had a hole halfway up… well, I’m glad that the small child who used to live here is still alive. And I’m thrilled to finally put away that electric radiator at the bottom of the stairs.

Closing Out the Irish Labor

I bit the bullet and hired the Irishman twice more. Here’s what I have to show for it.

The oak counter next to the stove is in! I plan to sand off the old finish and oil it. (Also, the kitchen is getting tidier)

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The missing chip of wood on the banister has been patched. He then used a fair bit of wood filler while doing the final carving but it should even out with stain.

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The bathroom door has its marble threshold.

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The vestibule door is in! He extended the bottom because the gap was big and he thought it looked stupid. And this door has beveled glass so the photos don’t do it justice.

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The panel sticking on the stairway wall is cut and pushed in place.

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This last one was unexpectedly hard because the saw doesn’t cut the super tight angles we needed. So he clamped blocks of wood to the saw fence.

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And, I no longer need to use a sneaker and a can of paint to keep my bedroom door shut!

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He promised me that on top of all this, he’ll come back an evening and shoot in (meaning use the pneumatic nailer) the panel sticking, finish off the roller ball catch on the linen closet door, and put up the permanent stop moldings on the bedroom, bathroom, and linen closet doors.

So yay! That’s a lot! And I got some things done too but not nearly as much.

I got fed up with the condition of this rocker. I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be keeping it forever but decided it makes sense to get it re-caned regardless.

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So I found a couple that canes chairs from an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. They wanted $240! My PTSD is almost gone. I started to plan out a DIY project to rig it with an upholstered seat. But then the low bid came in at $83, and here it is. And that puts it on the short list of most expensive furniture and décor items in the house. Many thanks to my grandmother for having good enough taste that I can be happy with her stuff.

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Then I’ve been doing a fair bit of organizing things now that space is carved out for them. One drawer in the kitchen had more contents than space, but the chest by the front door had room for the reusable shopping bags and that fixed everything. I picked up a few more drawer dividers for the kitchen. It’s the little things right?

And another day of sweeping up sawdust. I thought we were done with that.

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So organizing is a priority right now. So is just basic house work. I’ve been good about the washing my clothes thing but not so much folding them. The wash stand got a new purpose consistent with its name as I stacked the clean unfolded wash ever higher every week.

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So… little things are the new order of business. Cleaning, organizing, prepping to paint everything I didn’t get to before. And painting all the things I left undone. And things that don’t cost anything are all I can afford to do for the next 2 months anyway. That means the blog will be straying off-topic for a while. And the next time you see the Crooked House, it should look a good bit more polished off!

Oh, and I’m excited about the off-topic posts.

The Great Soap Dish Dilemma

I’m taking a break from expensive and time consuming projects, but there are smaller things I should be doing. My roommate has been away for 3 weeks and I promised her that stuff would happen while she was gone. I didn’t follow through. Some of this is dependent on the Irishman, who also promised to help me and didn’t follow through, but the bathroom’s lack of towel bars and other storage items is all on me. The toilet paper sits on the radiator, which doesn’t bother me. Towels hang on the side of this temporary storage cart, which I’m also fine with except that guests never find them.

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It’s in the bathtub thatthings get ugly. All I have is a bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo (usually large and inexpensive), and a scrub brush. My roommate has 2 additional bottles. And then I use a clean wash cloth every time I shower and with no place to hang them I let them sit in a nasty pile until laundry day.

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My roommate said she’d like to see all of that stuff go away. Her tone was gentle but that didn’t imply that I was welcome to slack off. But I did, mainly because my search left me disappointed. I want fixtures that are as plain and sleek as possible in shiny chrome at the dry end of the tub away from the shower head. And there’s a slim chance that I’d want storage for just a wee bit more in case someone more high maintenance ever lives here.

Chris suggested a magnetic soap dish like he used in his house, and this idea sounded fantastic. But there’s a problem. There’s a very limited selection of these, and the most sensible ones have a very traditional look that’s wrong for my bathroom. Everything else is either very high end and imported from Europe or looks as cheap as it is. But I could get one from Zack Scala with a look I liked – for about 50 bucks.

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That’s not super cheap but I figured it would be okay and I should get it. But then I was thinking of the other stuff I want that would be on the same wall. It’s one thing to cheat and use cheaper fixtures across the room, but here wouldn’t it look stupid? But getting them to match would cost like $300! And even after spending all that money will it look any good?

And I went back to the alternative, finding a different manufacturer whose product is close enough. But they’re all chrome when this soap dish is polished stainless steel. Polished stainless steel that looks like chrome is apparently not a thing in the US.

I thought when I was planning this project out that marble shelves would stick out like a sore thumb and thought I should get glass. But then I wondered about safety if I broke it. So I considered getting wire shelves. No need for a soap dish that way. But I couldn’t find anything I liked and decided that the risk of breaking a glass shelf (that I like) is pretty small anyway, right? But that takes me back to where I have to order expensive things online and decide if I’m going to hold my nose and spend hundreds of dollars or try to mix different styles of fixtures that I’m buying sight unseen.

So then I decided to ignore the house and wash up to do something fun. And I threw another washcloth on the pile.

A DIY Urn Fountain Tutorial

We’re going back to a time before blogging and progress photos were a thing. Mother’s Day 2011 that is. The photos are from last year’s redo but they get the point across.

My mom had always wanted a small fountain or pond and after considering a few different spots, we decided that a kind of boring slope right next to the patio would be the place to put it. But ponds are too much work and the fountains were far too ornate. I went on the hunt for something massive and multi-tiered with a statue of a naked baby pissing up into the air. Then a neighbor built her own using a nice urn and a hidden underground basin. Yes this is a real person’s garden.

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The great thing about these is you can make them as rustic or as formal as you want. We decided to build the slope up to grade with the patio with a semicircular retaining wall and put the basin in the middle of that new flat area.

To start we needed the wall. I looked at decorative concrete block systems but they’re expensive and not that attractive. In fact, the tops of them don’t look any different than regular old cinder block, and for us, the top would be the only part that showed. I decided to cover it up with one layer of stone, but the stone options at the Home Depot SUCKED. Instead I went to the Media Quarry and got mica schist (or Wissahickon schist) dry stack for only 20 bucks!  So definitely source your stone locally. We also wired up an outlet here.

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So here’s how it goes together. Dig a hole about 6 inches too deep. I used crushed stone “paver base” underneath the basin. Remember to get 3 times as much as you think you need. It’s way better to return the extra than to run out.

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For the basin, a regular pond liner did the job for about 15 dollars. And to size the pump, I bought one that was rated to carry water about twice as high as the urn we got. Pumps will be labeled with a maximum flow rate with minimal change in elevation and a maximum elevation at which you’ll only get a trickle. So go in between. A couple of cinder blocks will hold the urn.

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The urn needs to be shaped so that water will trickle down the sides and not splash out of the basin. We got this one at City Planter in the Northern Liberties and they were nice enough to drill the bottom for the fountain. I plugged the old hole and shoved the rubber hose from the pump through the new one. Then we used whatever was available to shim it level. Slate seemed like a good idea but my dad used wood and it was fine.

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Then, my mom wanted it to gurgle on the surface a little bit, but the stem the fountain came with doesn’t connect with the rubber hose. So I dumped some pea gravel in and just shoved the stem in. This sounds half-assed but it worked. It’s not watertight but what leaks out stays in the urn anyway.

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I backfilled around the basin with more stone and arranged more schist (and an antique frog) it.

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And then regular pond pebbles from the home depot finished it off. Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I made you a giant fermata! (And of course I underestimated the work, so on Mother’s Day this was still just a muddy hole.)

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And here it is with plants. (Seeing them in a photo is a reminder that they’re never really done)

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